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How Are LGBT Youths Affected by Discrimination and What Can Schools Do to Help?

This essay shows how discrimination leads to increased high school drop out rates for LGBT youths and, of greater concern, increased rates of suicide and substance abuse.

Gaell Jocelyn-Blackman


this paper, I will discuss the different types of discrimination that
LGBT youths are faced with and the effects on these youths. The paper
will elaborate on the severe impacts on LGBT youths not only caused by
discrimination but also due to lack of support and guidance. The paper
will also discuss the roles of the parents and schools in helping
minimize discrimination against LGBT youths. This paper will also
hopefully instruct schools and parents to accept and support gay
students rather than add to the discrimination that they already face.
Doing so will reduce the high school drop out rate and most importantly
the youth suicide rate. In essence, the purpose of this research paper
is to identify the different effects on LGBT youths due to
discrimination and to explore various actions that can and should be
taken by schools and parents to help these youths live a normal and
happy life. Therefore, my target audience is the school system as well
as the parents of LGBT youths.

Suicide is
the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youths. Gay and
lesbian youths are 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than
heterosexual youth. Over 30% of all reported teen suicides each year
are committed by gay and lesbian youths. . . . Gays and lesbians are at
much higher risk than the heterosexual population for alcohol and drug
abuse. Approximately 30% of both the lesbian and gay male populations
have problems with alcohol. Gay and lesbian youth are at greater risk
for school failure than heterosexual children. (U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.,

Substantially higher proportions of
homosexual people use alcohol, marijuana or cocaine than is the case in
the general population. (McKirnan & Peterson, 1989, as cited in
“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

28% of gay and lesbian youths drop out of high school because of
discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school
environment. (Remafedi, 1987, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.,

Gay and lesbian youths’ discomfort
stems from fear of name calling and physical harm. (Eversole, n.d, as
cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

M any
people are guilty of discrimination against LGBT youths, whether
consciously or unconsciously. LGBT youths are faced with daily
discrimination from society, peers, family and even school teachers and
administrations. The above statistics not only show that LGBT youths
lack support and guidance but also prove how much these youths are
clearly affected, in more ways than one, by discrimination. Cole (2007)
mentions that there is a higher rate of abuse, neglect, and
discrimination against LGBT youths than straight youths. I believe that
most parents would prefer their children to be straight than to be gay,
and most school officials also prefer straight students over gay
students. This preference could be a contributing factor in
discrimination against LGBT youths. This paper will hopefully capture
the attention of parents and schools and perhaps help modify their
outlook on LGBT youths. Fundamentally, I will attempt to answer the
following questions throughout the paper: What are the effects of
discrimination against LGBT youths? What is the role of the parents?
What is the role of the schools? How can parents and schools work
together to help minimize discrimination against LGBT youths? What more
can be done? Before answering those questions, I will start by
addressing the types of discrimination that LGBT youths are faced with.

Types of Discrimination

Some of
the comments that LGBT youths are faced with are as follows: “I hate
gays. They should be banned from this country;” “Get away from me, you
faggot. I can’t stand the sight of you;” “These queers make my stomach
turn.” Those are only a few of the biased statements that LBGT youths
are faced with in society. According to Cole (2007), the word “faggot”
is often used by anti-gay peers to terrorize LGBT youths. Words such as
“faggot” or “gay” are sometimes used in a negative sense to express
something either stupid or uncool (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.35).
When that occurs, it shows an even greater sign of discrimination
against LGBT youths. I noticed that these words are not only used in
the real world but also in movies and TV shows which makes it harder
for LGBT youths to deal with. In addition to the discrimination from
society and their peers, LGBT youths also endure discrimination from
home/families and particularly schools.

“Today’s Gay
Youth: The Ugly, Frightening Statistics” (n.d.) reports that one half
of LGBT youths are neglected by their parents because of their sexual
preference and approximately a quarter of LGBT youths are mandated to
leave their homes. Cole (2007) explains that rejected LGBT youths
generally do not learn how to build a relationship with peers or
families. As a result, it creates a state of loneliness and isolation
for them. Some LGBT youths are both verbally and physically abused by
parents (“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.). In addition, roughly about 40% of
youths that are homeless are classified as LGBT youths. The same
article shows 27% of male teenagers who classified themselves as gay or
bisexual left home due to quarrels with family members over their
sexuality. Needless to say, parents and families play a big part in
discrimination against LGBT youths and the effects that it has on them.

Nevertheless, it appears that the majority of the
discrimination against LGBT youths emanates from the schools that they
attend. Are schools taking any actions to minimize discrimination
against gay students? What are they doing to help these adolescents?
The following quote is an explicit example of how schools can
contribute to discrimination against LGBT youths:

took a call from one sixteen-year-old who came out to his counselor.
The only other person he’d told was his friend in California. The
counselor said, “I can’t help you with that.” After he left, the
counselor called his mother to make sure she knew. The youth went home
that night not knowing that he’d been outed to his parents. Sitting
around the dinner table, his mother said to him, “I got a call from the
school counselor today. We’re not going to have any gay kids in this
family.” His father took him outside and beat him. (as cited in Human
Rights Watch, 2001, p.106)

Human Rights Watch (2001) also
reports that the same youth was harassed by his peers once they found
out about his sexuality. At this point he turned to suicide, but was
fortunately taken in by a family member who lived out of state where he
finished school (p. 106). In the mentioned quote, the sixteen-year-old
student did not get any support from his school guidance counselor or
his parents. If his own school and parents would not give him any
guidance or support, who else could he turn to? What is the
alternative? This example could be a common concern throughout the
world, where LGBT youths are not comfortable with their gender at
school at home. Consequently, they are faced with an alternative which
is rarely a positive one. The alternatives that they face may include
depression, substance abuse, violence, and even suicide.

Effects of Discrimination

youths endure hostile verbal and physical harassment that can be
excruciating for them (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35). Human Rights
Watch (2001) also states that although the youths that were interviewed
emphasized their fear of physical and sexual assault, being called
words like “faggot,” “queer,” or “dyke,” daily is still destructive

One young gay youth who had
dropped out of an honors program angrily protested, “just because I am
gay doesn’t mean I am stupid,” as he told of hearing “that’s so gay”
meaning “that’s so stupid,” not just from other students but from
teachers in his school. (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 35)

25% of LGBT youths are high school drop outs because of the
discrimination they are faced with in the school atmosphere (“Today’s
Gay Youth,” n.d.). The article also states the LGBT youths have a
greater risk of academic failure than heterosexual students.
Furthermore they don’t get involved much in student activities and have
very little dedication to the school’s agendas because school isn’t a
safe, healthy, or productive learning environment. Therefore, LGBT
youths make an attempt to live, work, and learn with continuous fear of
physical assault at school (“Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.).

abuse against LGBT youths usually occurs due to disregarded harassment
(Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 42). Human Rights Watch (2001) says that
the number of physical assaults that were reported by interviewed LGBT
youths had an enormous psychological impact on them, mainly because the
physical abuse followed constant verbal and non-physical harassment
that was overlooked by school officials (p. 42). For example, a lesbian
student reported that several months of harassment and verbal threats
grew to physical abuse. “‘I got hit in the back of the head with an ice
scraper.’ By that point, she said she was so used to being harassed. ‘I
didn’t even turn around to see who it was’” (Human Rights Watch, 2001,
p. 42). Another incident mentioned by Human Rights Watch (2001)
involved a tenth grade gay youth who was hit in the back of the neck
with a beer bottle. He literally had to crawl to the nearest friend’s
house for immediate assistance. The same youth was beaten up in the
seventh grade by a couple of anti-gay kids (p. 42). One last example
entails another gay youth who first suffered from verbal assault and
students throwing items at him. Subsequently, a group of anti-gay
students strangled him with a drafting line so bad that it cut him.
Later that school year the youth was dragged down a flight of stairs
and cut with knives by his classmates (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p.
42). Fortunately, he lived to talk about it.

Human Rights
Watch (2001) implies that verbal and physical violence is a tension
that LGBT youths have gotten accustomed to; however, it is damaging to
their psychological wellbeing (p. 68). Many of the LGBT youths
interviewed by Human Rights Watch (2001) reported signs of depression
such as: “sleeplessness, excessive sleep, loss of appetite, and feeling
of hopelessness”(p. 69). One reported incident involved a gay youth who
could not take it anymore. He started to skip school so that he would
not have to put up with the harassment anymore. He stayed at home all
day and ended up missing fifty-six days of school. The youth explained,
“‘It was mentally and physically stressful for me to go to that school.
I remember going home and waking up in the morning just dreading it;
dreading the fact that I would have to go back to that school’” (as
cited in Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 69). Other youths reported that
even when the harassment was not addressed directly toward them, they
were affected by it. One youth implied that discrimination and
harassment makes him feel like he is backed up into a corner and so sad
that he wants to cry (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 69). It is no wonder
LGBT youth turn to drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Cole (2007)
claims that discrimination against LGBT youths can create repression
along with a deficiency in their natural growth. Discrimination also
has a social and emotional impact on them. Instead of being social
individuals, LGBT youths remain in the closet and hide. The loneliness
that they bear can turn into depression which often leads to substance
abuse or even suicide. LGBT youths have greater chances of alcohol and
substance abuse than heterosexual youths (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d.). Also,
roughly about one third of LGBT youths have a drinking or drug problem.
Human Rights Watch (2001) interviewed some LGBT youths who say that
they drink to the point of passing out or to feel good and normal (p.
69). The lack of support from parents or schools can possibly make them
feel like there is no hope of ever living a happy life and being
productive (Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 68).

Roles of Parents

of all gay and lesbian youths report that their parents reject them due
to their sexual orientation. In a study of male teenagers
self-described as gay or bisexual, 27% moved away from home because of
conflict with family members over sexual orientation. (Remafedi, 1987,
as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

26% of gay and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of
conflicts over their sexual orientation. (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 1989, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

a study of 194 gay and lesbian youth, 25% were verbally abused by
parents, and nearly 10% dealt with threatened or actual violence.
(D’Augelli, 1997, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

40% of homeless youths are identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
(Eversole, n.d., as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

providers estimate that gay, lesbian and bisexual youths make up 20-40%
of homeless youth in urban areas. (National Network of Runaway and
Youth Services, 1991, as cited in “Today’s Gay Youth,” n.d., n.p.)

appears that the lack of support, protection, and guidance from family
also has a major effect on LGBT youths. Perhaps, if their families were
more supportive, the suicide and depression rates of LGBT youths would
be moderately less. I believe that parents should embrace their
children no matter what their sexual preference is. For an adolescent,
I think that family should be the primary source for seeking support
and guidance. When parents reject their gay or lesbian adolescent, I
feel that it can possibly set him or her up for failure. This era is
the time when adolescents would need their parents’ love and support
the most. I also sense that when LGBT youths don’t get the love and
support that they are looking for from parents, it contributes to their
state of depression and suicidal phase. Therefore, parents of LGBT
youths should take time to reflect on the circumstances before they
make the wrong decisions.

One way of showing support would
be for the youths’ parents or family to intervene with the school or at
least make an attempt like the mother in the following quote:

more I talked to teachers, the superintendent, and the principal, the
more they just kept throwing up brick walls and trying to convince me I
would have to let my son go through this,” Ms. Cooper said. “But no
child should have to go through this, whether he’s gay or not. When
[bullying] gets to the point where a kid wants to quit school and give
up his future, something has to be done.” (Browman, 2001, p. 3)

the above case, the parent was being supportive to her gay son while
the school officials were not. Like many other schools, they choose to
ignore the fact that the gay student is being bullied and discriminated
against. As mentioned earlier in the paper, that kind of response from
schools also contributes to the effects of depression on LGBT youths.

Roles of Schools

cannot ignore the risks faced by homosexual students, but deciding how
to deal with the issue should be a matter of local concern” (Archer,
2002, n.p.). In his article, Archer is stressing that educators must
address discrimination against gay students and must put aside their
personal views to create a safe environment for these students. In her
article, Browman (2001) also talks about the lack of attention from
school teachers and administrators toward gay discrimination and
harassment. Browman (2001) acknowledges the educational effect on LGBT
youths due to constant harassment in school. A very interesting point
that was made in this article is, if a student makes a racial comment
in school, he or she gets punished. So why should remarks like “dyke,”
“fag,” or “queer” be acceptable? Are those words equal to the same
level of discrimination as making a racial comment? The article advises
that the problem of discrimination or harassment can be addressed at
the verbal stage before it gets to the physical point or causes the
youth’s academic learning to be harmed (Browman, 2001). The article
continues to imply that teachers and administrators often fail to cease
discrimination or harassment against LGBT youth. They are either afraid
of facing prejudice from others or perhaps even because of their own
prejudice (Browman, 2001). The article also suggests a way to express
to all students that harassment or discrimination against LGBT students
will not be tolerated. Consequences such as school conduct codes and
discipline policies should be established as well as anti-harassment
rules (Browman, 2001).

Browman (2001) reports that Human
Rights Watch completed a two-year study on the topic where an immediate
response was obtained from educational groups such as: The National
Education Association, The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational
Alliance, and The American Federation of Teachers. The three groups
adhered in influencing the Education Department to defend and protect
gay and lesbian students from discrimination. They add that schools are
making an effort to create a safe environment for all students where
they can all be treated with equal respect and dignity. Accordingly,
the department fights to provide the schools with information and
guidance to help solve the problem of discrimination against LGBT
youths (Browman, 2001).

Furthermore, New York City has made
an attempt to come up with a solution that they thought would possibly
reduce discrimination against LGBT youths by opening an all-gay school.
I see this movement as a possible increase in discrimination against
LGBT youths. If they are all put together in one school, how is that
helping them deal with discrimination from society, peers and others
outside of the school? And how is that teaching anti-gay students not
to discriminate against LGBT youths? I don’t think isolation from the
rest of the world is the best solution for LGBT youths. They are human
beings just like the rest of us and they should be treated accordingly.
I agree with what is stated in Browman’s (2001) article about the
schools accomplishing all they can to stop discrimination against LGBT


The two
primary sources that have the power and ability to diminish
discrimination against LGBT youths are schools and parents. In my
opinion, they are the ones who have the greatest influence on LGBT
youths and in turn have the ability to reduce substance abuse,
educational failure, and suicides. Parents and schools need to realize
how much they can help diminish the effects of discrimination against
LGBT youths if they work together and productively. Clearly, if they
remain on the same page they can ease the agony for LGBT youths and
help them live a normal and happy life. One method that can be
exercised in schools is a homosexual sensitivity training for anti-gay
students and school officials. The training would benefit both students
and school officials. I think that it would help the school officials
manage whatever prejudices they may have against LGBT youths. Since
anti-gay bullying students are perhaps ignorant to the subject, schools
should modify a system where all students can be educated on the
subject. It would probably help the students get a better understanding
if homosexuality was compared to other subject matters such as culture
and religion. Students should be provided with a full view of the
subject just like any other. If this method helps only two out of ten
anti-gay students cease discrimination against LGBT students, I am sure
that it will make a difference. An additional scheme that should be
established is monthly meetings between school officials and parents to
review the progress of measures that are already in place.

writing this research paper, I never imagined how immensely affected
LGBT youths were by discrimination. It is awful what they go through
and how most people are clueless or even careless about what these
youths endure. LGBT youths are faced with discrimination, torture, and
sometimes even execution because of who they love, how they look, or
who they are. I believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are
integral aspects of ourselves and should never lead to discrimination
or abuse. Doing this research not only made me realize the intense
discrimination suffered by LGBT youths but also had an impact on me.
This research has made me want to advocate for more laws and policies
to help protect LGBT youths. I have gained a ton of information and
knowledge during this process. However, if my readers obtain half of
the valuable information that I have obtained, I know that I have
accomplished my task.


J. (2002, February). Local schools must address safety for gays.
Education Week, 21 (23), 3. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host

Browman, D. H. (2001,
June). Report says schools often ignore harassment of gay students.
Education Week, 20 (39), 5. Retrieved October 12, 2007, from EBSCO Host

Cole, S. (2007, April). Protecting our youth. Edge . Retrieved October 31, 2007, from

Human Rights Watch (2001). Hatred in the hallways. NY: Human Rights Watch.

Today’s gay youth: The ugly, frightening statistics (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2007, from